During the last weekend we got our thousandth paying customer. 1000 is not a big number, but as this number was zero a year ago it means a lot for our team. We've gotten good feedback and reviews throughout our existence but there is nothing that better proves that you're doing your job well than having a thousand customers pay for it. Thank you, team members, said customers, investors and friends!
And instead of an Oscars-speech, I thought I'd look back at the beginning of our journey and try to find the main things that got us where we are today. To crystallize the learnings for ourselves, and make it available for everyone else who's interested. So here you go, here are the three most important things that got us to our first thousand users.
When building the product, think pain, not features
The most important thing is having a good product. CRM is a crowded market and we'd be still hunting our 10th customer had we not gotten some things right (in addition to making many mistakes, like all startups do).
As a first time entrepreneur I hadn’t seen Dave McClure’s brilliant pain-killer vs. vitamins slides when we started the work with Pipedrive. But we were “lucky” because we had felt the pain of using a sales management software after more than a decade in sales and sales management.
What this meant in practical terms was that we knew we could and should have less features compared to competitors as long as our product eased the pain better. For many CRM users the biggest pain is the feeling of not having control over the many valuable but not yet closed leads. The feeling of not being organized and missing out on sales. So we focused on building the best sales CRM we could and put many seemingly important features under the hood, or aside.
It wasn’t (and isn’t) always easy. While juggling between your day job and your startup project it’s bloody hard to say 'no you can’t do that with our software' to a potential customer, but we quickly learned to ignore all one-off customer asks. We treat feature requests as “pain sensations” and really pay attention to those that are asked several times. Even then, most end up at the bottom of our feature build list which is not to say we ignore what customers say. We recently fast-tracked advanced privacy settings to the top of our roadmap because we had underestimated the pain that not having this had created.
Get your product into the hands of the right people
Once we had built and launched Pipedrive, we were thrilled to hear that we did indeed ease the pain of our customers, but some months later we weren’t too happy about our growth. On month four our revenues barely covered our hosting costs and we were growing a measly 10-20% per month. It was only after we had managed to get our product to the hands of the right users that our revenue growth graph took a much more exciting angle.
Product was the same, the only difference was that it was now used by more influencers, thought leaders and other people who are often asked for software recommendations. We tried numerous things to achieve that but the following two gave the most tangible result:
- Applying to incubators like AngelPad, YCombinator and Seedcamp to meet people with unbelievably big networks. We applied and talked to many, got invited to AngelPad in the end and spent three months among entrepreneurs and mentors, most of the time pitching and talking to people. - Running a good deal to get cost-conscious techies aboard. Our AppSumo offer worked very well.
Make getting or signing up to your product or service as easy as possible
Well, isn't it already? This was my reaction to someone's feedback 8 months ago. As we found out, it was not easy at all. We confused people with loads of content and provided several call to actions eg. sign up, choose a package, read about features or see a live demo.
We then put most of the text from the front page to other pages. We removed as many hurdles from the registering path as we could, even the package selection page had to go. We figured that if people like the product they can be bothered with settings and details later. Feel free to click on the screenshot to get the full scope on our initial mistakes.
AB testing showed that making these changes resulted in 3 times higher conversions from visits to sign-ups.
So there you go. What got us to a thousand paying customers was addressing pain, getting the product into the hands of the right people and making it easy to sign up. Sounds easy, right? And this is not to say time spent on going the extra mile in support, sending kick-ass emails, blogging or other activities is a waste of time. We did lots of different things in our first 18 months and almost all of them contributed to our growth. But had we only focused on these three things we would still be in more or less the same place. It’s probably different for most other startups, and I hope you’ll agree that the journey to discover them is bloody exciting.